Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
Junior Meaghan McCloskey helped build a house in Springhill, La.
Vandals give back
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 04/06/2012
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By Anthony Kuipers, Media Relations Intern

Six Idaho student-athletes had a choice for their Spring break. They could have gone home and relaxed. Instead, they decided to do something different.

In doing so, they made a difference.

Kelsie Saxe, Meaghan McCloskey, Chelsie Breen, Laurel Draper, Janelle Chow and Abby Biedenbach were part of the 144 students and staff who took part in University of Idaho’s Alternative Service Break from March 10-17. Twelve teams traveled to locations in the state of Idaho and around the country to volunteer their services for various charities and organizations.

Some athletes went as far as the Southeast to volunteer their services. Junior track and field athlete Laurel Draper traveled to Hammond, La., with her team, to assist a woman with a hoarding problem.

“We had to go in and clear out all of her stuff and throw it to the garbage and she couldn’t even be there for that process because it was too mentally hard for her,” Draper said.  “So we had to go and clean out her entire house and then we pretty much fixed the roof and painted it and did other construction stuff on it.”

Draper said the trip exceeded her expectations and that she cherished the connections she made with her teammates.

“I think the most rewarding part was making those friendships with the people I went with,” Draper said. “I didn’t know it was going to have such a large impact on everyone and so you really keep together as a team. I probably made friends that I’ll never forget and I’ll have the rest of my life on that weeklong trip so that was cool.”

Junior swimmer Meaghan McCloskey also went to Louisiana with her team to build a house in a small town called Springhill.  She called her experience “one-of-a-kind” and said she enjoyed the small community.

“The small town feel was really cool,” McCloskey said.  “Everyone knew everyone. There was one waitress who was like, ‘I thought I didn’t recognize you guys but I wasn’t going to say anything.’”

Sophomore soccer player Chelsie Breen stayed in Idaho for her trip. Breen spent time in Salmon working at therapy center called Whitewater Therapeutic and Recreational Riding Association as well as The Mahoney House, a center for victims of abuse.
Breen said the highlight of the trip was hearing the story of a woman who worked at the Mahoney House.  Breen said the woman suffered an injury years ago that paralyzed her, but is making strides in her recovery thanks to physical therapy, which is Breen’s major.

“She can use a walker now and she did physical therapy in Spokane and I’m interested in doing physical therapy, so it really related to what I want to do and really helped me realize that it was something worth doing,” Breen said.

This was the second year junior volleyball player Janelle Chow and junior swimmer Kelsie Saxe participated in a service trip. Chow’s team went to Americus, Ga., to build houses while Saxe stayed in-state and traveled to Boise to volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Both Saxe and Chow have seen the enthusiasm for the trips grow around campus.

“There are so many kids that signed up for this and are giving up their spring break to go and serve in a different community and do something like that,” Saxe said. “We’re giving up our spring break but we’re gaining so much just from learning from our experiences.”

Chow said she has recommended the trips to her friends every year since she did it as a freshman.

“I think the whole university is seeing that this program is going far, and by helping other people out, you’re helping yourself out,” Chow said.

ASUI center for Volunteerism and Social Action coordinator Bruce Mann said the trips are meant to provide a first-hand look at societal issues, such as poverty, in different communities.

“The idea is, not only are you serving, but you’re engaging in conversations about issues that don’t have easy solutions,” Mann said. “Our goal for students and our outcomes are not only to do service but to really learn about themselves and others, be civically engaged in their communities and have conversations about what are some possible solutions to difficult problems.”

He said the program started in 2001 with one team of students and has increasingly grown in popularity. Mann attributes this growth to the experiences students share with their peers.

“I think part of it is the stories that students come back with are impactful,” Mann said. “Not only what they did, but the people they met down there. They’re bringing back their stories and it really, I think, synthesizes what we do in the classroom and in our other out-of-classroom activities.”

Mann said the number of student-athletes who participate is impressive considering the numerous commitments that go along with being an athlete. He said they often participate because they want to spend time focusing on something other than sports.

“I have been fortunate enough to have had student-athletes on teams that I’ve advised and sometimes they’ll come in and be like, ‘My whole life has been this sport, so I kind of want to do something a little bit different,’” Mann said.

He also credits the coaches for their support of the program.

“You have coaches that have definitely been proponents of having there student athletes involved and giving back and so I think that kind of attitude really is contagious for others and it is really neat to see,” Mann said.
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